06/11/2011 8:34AM

HandiGambling the Belmont

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Today's HandiGambling 236 exercise is the eleventh race at Belmont, the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/2 miles.
 
Remember that you have a mythical $100 with which to wager on the race, and the entrant with the highest money total will receive a "Monthly Enhanced 60-Card Past Performance Plan."
 
Anyone going over the $100 limit will be disqualified.
 
Please post your plays and analysis to the blog.
 
Please separate the play from the analysis and label the play "HG" with the program numbers instead of the names of the horses. 
 
Past performances are available at the previous blog post.
 
In the event of a tie, the earliest post gets first preference.
 
One entry per person please.
 
I reserve the right to approve or deny any entries.
 
I know that there is a time issue for some of you, but let's remember why we began the HandiGambling races in the first place. The goal was to share ideas on why we like these horses, and why we're betting them the way we are. I'm not asking for a novel, but if you could spare a sentence or two outlining your handicapping angles and thought processes about wagering, it would be appreciated.

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I'm posting this early so don't have access to track conditions or changes.  There is high humidity in the New York area, however, and a pretty good chance of rain later in the day. 

The three main contenders look very, very solid.  I'll use them as well as one price horse in my multiple-race wagers.

*Although second-best in the Preakness, I thought the Kentucky Derby winner, #9 ANIMAL KINGDOM validated his performance under the Twin Spires.  Off a beat slowly, Animal Kingdom was outsprinted through a quick first quarter-mile while getting dirt kicked back in his face.  The pacesetters, including race-winner Shackleford, slowed the pace down the backstretch and that may have aided Shackleford later in the race.  Animal Kingdom came with his run, however, splitting horses on the far turn before being set down for the drive.  He had his chances, but just didn't get there. 

Today, at 1 1/2 miles, I believe that Animal Kingdom will shine.  He is bred to run all day long.  There should be some pace to attack and I don't think he'll be too far out of it when the real racing begins.

*#12 SHACKLEFORD was the deserving winner of the Preakness and has the tactical edge over the late-running Animal Kingdom.  He'll be forwardly-placed once again, if not outright on the front, under Jesus Castanon and should be prominent when the field hits the crucial final turn.  I didn't like the way he switched leads twice in the final hundred yards of the Preakness as it may have been a sign of fatigue at a shorter distance.  Then again, he may not have liked the whip and that may have shocked him onto his left lead only to right himself a few strides later. 

Shackleford has had two grueling races in a row and can be quite anxious pre-race.  He's a very likeable horse and I can't throw him out of multiple-race bets, but I'll go with the Derby winner in the rubber match.

#6 NEHRO sat back and relaxed while Animal Kingdom and Shackleford traded heavy blows in the Preakness.  He comes into the Belmont fresh as a daisy and was in excellent form before his tiny freshening.  He may have been taken out of his game in the Kentucky Derby when forced to move early into a moderate pace, but still ran on well for second behind Animal Kingdom. 

I'm guessing he'll be taken back a bit more in the Belmont and try to get a slight jump on Animal Kingdom on the far turn.  He should be a dangerous stretch presence under Corey Nakatani and there aren't any holes in his form. 

*#4 SANTIVA is an interesting longshot.  The Belmont will be his third start of the form cycle after he was campaigned sporadically leading up to the Derby.  It was really a weird prep schedule for him, running once in February at Fair Grounds and once over the polytrack at Keeneland before competing in Louisville.  He passed a few tired ones in the Derby and may be peaking at the right time for the underrated Eddie Kenneally. 

Santiva's pedigree is interesting.  By Giant's Causeway, one would think Santiva is bred to run all day, but the dam is a half-sister to sprint champion Safely Kept.  The distance may be somewhat of a stretch, but it's a stretch for all of these sophomores.  Santiva may be a cut below the big ones, but is not without a chance.

As for the others:

*I selected #1 MASTER OF HOUNDS in the Derby and he ran a solid fifth, passing horses late under a nice ride by Garrett Gomez.  While that race has some fans salivating about his chances at the longer Belmont distance, he did falter late in the 9 1/2-furlong UAE Derby and his female family is chock-full of sprint influences.  I admit it, I'm a fan of this horse, but I also think he ran his absolute best race in the Derby and must improve today.  Trainer Aidan O'Brien hasn't won at Belmont since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile of 2001 (Johannesburg), but he's obviously had limited chances since then.

*#2 STAY THIRSTY has never hit the 90 Beyer plateau, ran poorly after reportedly overheating in the Florida Derby, and then didn't pick up his feet in Kentucky.  His half-brother, Andromeda's Hero, ran second in this race in 2005, but Stay Thirsty really has to pick up his game to pull off the upset.

*#3 RULER ON ICE adds blinkers and may be more forwardly-placed this afternoon.  Like Stay Thirsty, however, he has yet to reach 90 on the Beyers and he missed the Preakness partly due to a low blood-cell count.  The two horses that beat him in the Sunland Derby (Twice the Appeal) and Federico Tesio (Concealed Identity) were both beaten badly in the Derby and Preakness respectively.  Ruler On Ice did graduate over sloppy going and may move forward slightly over a wet track.

*#5 BRILLIANT SPEED got into a bit of trouble in the Derby, but the main question surrounding this son of noted turf stallion Dynaformer is the surface.  Brilliant Speed's best races came on turf and synthetics and he is 0-3 on dirt (two sprints and the Derby).  He shows a improving Beyer pattern and may be coming into his own in the third start of the form cycle, but must show more punch on the dirt. 

*#7 MONZON hasn't done much since registering a career-best 90 Beyer in the Count Fleet Stakes on New Year's Day.  He won his maiden by open lengths over "good" going and can move forward on an off-track, but his last couple of races look uninspiring.  He has some pedigree as his sire Thunder Gulch won the Belmont and Thunder Gulch's son, Point Given, also won the "Test of the Champion."

*#8 PRIME CUT ran a good second in the Grade 3 Lexington on polytrack and was a solid third in the local Belmont prep, the Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes on May 14.  I'm not sure this distance is good for him, though, as he's by the sprinter Bernstein out of a half-sister to the quick speedster Disco Rico. 

*#10 MUCHO MACHO MAN lost one of his shoes in the Louisiana Derby and lost another in the Preakness.  He was bounced around in Maryland, emerging from the race with some superficial cuts and I wonder if this hard campaign has taken its toll.  He's been mostly a consistent and good performer, but he'll now have to go 1 1/2 miles after some grueling races.  It's possible he's a bit past his peak.

#11 ISN'T HE PERFECT may show more speed here, but he was hammered in the Preakness and looks overmatched once again.

Here's how I'll play HandiGambling (although a wet track may knock it off-kilter):

$40 Exacta - Animal Kingdom - Shackleford  (9-12)
$40 Exacta - Animal Kingdom - Nehro (9-6)
$20 Exacta - Animal Kingdom - Santiva (9-4)

Best of luck to all.

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For a more detailed analysis of all the graded stakes at Belmont, please click on the below link and scroll down to the overheated handicapper with the microphone:


http://www.drf.com/news/weekend-stakes-preview-videos


More importantly, who do you like this weekend?  I want to know.

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Have a great Belmont Saturday and a wonderful weekend.